The value of solitude

The pressures on all sides to bond make those who, for whatever reason, find themselves alone uneasy and even guilt-ridden in their situation.  Even worse they reduce the possibility of success for the relationships which they constantly promote. If, as we are told, our lives can be fulfilled only by our intimate attachments to others, then those attachments are from the beginning under a weight of responsibility that cripples their growth.  Even more importantly, this current insistence on relationships not only spoils our chances of relating—it gets in the way of our discovering the value, perhaps the necessity, of solitude.

Peter France, Hermits

Elder Futhark Cross-stitch Patterns

Cross-stitch was one of my first hobbies.  I’ve never gotten into crochet and knitting (I could never get my stitches tight enough), and sewing came much later.  I enjoyed picking out new skeins of thread (back when one could buy four for a dollar at the local Pamida).  They were little brightly colored threads of potential.  Winding them on little cardboard bobbins was incredibly soothing.  The limited number of stitches and the structure of the Aida cloth were less intimidating to me than freehand embroidery (I could never get my stitches even enough to look right).

At some point I stopped stitching.  I got busy with the sewing, and then the publishing, and then the stress of just getting through the day.  Sitting down and working on something just for myself seemed indulgent and irresponsible.  The boxes of thread, the Aida cloth and cross-stitch books got pushed to the back of shelves to make room for bolts of cloth and serger thread and depression.

Hestia Pouch
Design cross-stitched on linen, turned into a pouch to hold items and hang over the door.

In November, as we reorganized the garage into a workshop, I found all of my cross-stitch supplies.  They were dusty and wrinkled, but no worse for wear.  I sat down one evening with some linen and waste canvas and my Celtic Cross Stitch book by Gail Lawther.  I had an idea to create something I could hang over the front door, a pouch I could fill with herbs, stones, medallions, whatever represented to me safety and love and protection.  I have an affinity for Hestia, who is often represented by a circle, and Stephan has a strong connection to his Celtic roots.  I picked a design that was circular and got to work.

The actual stitching took a week or so, working in the evening.  The whole time I had to remind myself that it was okay to take this time for myself.   And as the pattern emerged, as I looked from design to fabric and back again, as my hands worked, I stitched pieces of myself back together.  Those parts of me that had been torn away because I felt I didn’t have the right to self-care were reattached with careful rows of Xs.  Breathe, I told myself.  This is okay.  You get to do something solely for the joy of it.

And it worked.  It was soothing to concentrate on the rhythm of the needle going in and out of the fabric.  I had to give all my attention to keeping the thread from tangling, to the number of stitches, to the tautness of the fabric.  There was no room for other concerns.  I made sure to tell Stephan several times how much I was enjoying this one simple act, to reinforce the good feelings.

Hecate's Wheel Cross-stitch Decoration
Hecate’s Wheel cross-stitched on my bag in green and red. Design from http://crossstitch.about.com/od/freecrossstitchpattern1/ig/Wiccan—Pagan-Symbols/Hecate-s-Wheel-Pattern-Chart.htm

After the pouch, I embellished my bag with a design of Hecate’s Wheel.  I started having issues with leaving the house last year.   Not so much agoraphobia, as anxiety about being around people.  I thought that carrying a reminder of Hecate, a goddess that I associate with strength and protection, would help with my feelings.  I am taking medication and am in therapy, both have helped with this particular issue (among others), and I think that the cross-stitch has aided in my healing.

Me being me, though, I started playing around with the idea of creating my own cross-stitch patterns.  I’m also working on another book with Stephan, and I am looking to incorporate the cross-stitch into that.  To those ends, I pulled out some graph paper and started with a topic that seemed easy enough: the Elder Futhark.  The runes are all lines, with definite proportions.  I wanted to design something that could be repurposed for various projects, and thought of all the alphabet samplers that one finds in various cross-stitch project books.  I researched various viking design elements for the borders.  The actual drafting took several weeks of graph work and then stitching out the designs to see how they looked.  In the end I drafted two samplers, both on the small side so that they can be completed in a single sitting.

The first design you can see above, the runes are four stitches high by one or two stitches wide (depending on the rune).  The finished design is approximately 2 1/4″ tall by 3 1/4″ wide on 14 count Aida cloth.  It has been worked with two threads: the runes in red and the border in red and black.

The second design (below) is even smaller, the runes two stitches high and one or two stitches wide (again depending on the rune).  The finished design is approximately 1 1/8″ tall by 2 1/8″ wide on 14 count Aida cloth.  It has also been worked with two threads in the black and red colors.

Elder Furthark Cross-stitch Sampler Small
Worked in two threads over 14 ct. white Aida cloth, this sampler features the Elder Futhark runes and a Viking inspired border design.

Both designs are done in back-stitch (making them less cross-stitch patterns, but that’s the term I’m going with).  The stitches include half and quarter stitches, so you have to work between the weave at some points.

I used the program KG-Chart LE to make the charts.  I will definitely be buying the program as it very easy to use and does exactly what I need it to do.  I highly recommend checking it out if you want to make your own patterns.  You can view the designs by clicking on the links below:

Elder Futhark Cross-stitch Sampler Large Pattern

Elder Futhark Cross-stitch Sampler Small Pattern

If you like this project and want to see more, help support this site. You can buy something my Etsy store. Or check out our first two books, available from Amazon.com:

Convention Report: Midwinter Gaming Convention

Last week we headed up to Milwaukee for the Midwinter Gaming Convention.  We had a booth there, and had plans to get some gaming in.  This is Midwinter’s fifteenth year, and our third, and it has grown larger and better every year we’ve been.  This was the first year both Stephan and I had wares to peddle, and the first year I had so many booth helpers.  It all added up to a lot of fun.

What made the biggest difference, I think, is that I had two booth helpers throughout the convention.  Our friends Denis and Chrissy came along, and with them on hand, we had four adults to cover the booth the entire weekend.  That meant Stephan wasn’t stuck on Ben patrol the entire time.  It meant we both got to go to lunch together one day.  It meant I got to spend time with my son outside of the vendor’s hall for the first time ever.  I can’t thank the two of them enough for their help the entire weekend.

SCA costuming at Midwinter.
SCA costuming at Midwinter.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed gaming cons.  Midwinter’s focus is on LARP, but it has programming dedicated to board and video games, as well as a strong reenactment presence thanks to the SCA.  So while there is a costuming contingent, it isn’t a costume heavy convention.  And the convention has a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere.  I found myself joking and laughing, things I hadn’t done in a long time.  I managed to deal with the little anxiety that cropped up throughout the weekend, which means that medication and therapy is working for my mental health issues.

The Milwaukee Hilton is a beautiful hotel, with lots of ornate staircases and decor, as well as hallways and seating areas for hangouts.  I spent most of my time in the vendor hall, which was placed in a baroque fantasy of a ballroom with chandeliers and gold molding on the ceiling.  The hotel staff was super friendly and helpful, a big plus when you are attending a convention where there can be tension between fans and non-fans.

That same weekend there was a girl’s volleyball conference in the hotel.  This led to lots of interactions with non-gaming people.  I witnessed an abundance of stares and whispered comments, but I was never the target of them.  In fact I had several women approach me to ask about what was going on.  I think the pink hair establishes me as part of the “weird people” but that my size and gender makes me non-threatening enough to be approachable.  This isn’t the first time I’ve played ambassador for the geek community.  Back in 2002 at ConJose in San Jose, I fielded questions from people on the street who saw me wearing a badge, but not a costume (no pink hair back in those days).   And the fan side of things gave as good as they got on the passive aggressive front.  I overheard one LARPer bragging about having invented “Trolling: the LARP” where he and his friends paraded past groups of volleyball players and parents in their costumes and played their characters to an exaggerated degree.

Creeper
This was Ben’s favorite costume, by far. “Next year I want to be a creeper, too. And then we can creep together!”

I only ran into one instance of bad customer behavior: a woman incredulously demanding to know if “that ruffle thing” truly was $75.  When I confirmed that, yes, I do charge $75 for my bustles, she huffed off.  I know that prior to her asking she had snapped a shot of the bustle (the flash is a dead giveaway) and suspect she’ll show the picture to a sewing friend and ask if said friend will make one for her.  I wish her good luck with that.

I did overhear another customer ask the vendor next to me if they would get a discount on a $20 item if they carried it around the convention and told people where they would get it from.  There seems to be this belief among a certain set of attendees that vendors are starving for marketing and will give away their wares for word of mouth advertising.  I have never once met a vendor who has done such.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there is one or two who have, I just have never encountered them.

The only other annoyance was the number of times people congregated in front of my booth and blocked access to it.  That is easily dealt with.  I whip out my phone and ask the people if they could move because I want to get a shot of my set up.  Nine times out of ten the people realize they were blocking the way and move on apologetically.  The tenth time, the people move, but with resentment at having been asked to move.  Either way, it’s not skin off my nose, I got them to clear the way.

The final attendance count was just shy of 1100 members.  Not a bad showing.  I made just over 50 cents per attendee (which is about what I plan on making at any convention).  It was less than I had hoped, but I didn’t have any big items with me this time around.  There’s time before the next convention to get plenty of coats made up for off the rack purchases.

roach and the orc
I found an orc!

According to those we talked to, Midwinter has seen an average of 10 percent growth in attendance each year.  It’s clear that they do a lot of work not only in planning great programming, but also in advertising their presence.  They do a lot of social media work, have a strong Facebook page, and got the convention covered by local TV press.  It is a lot of work, but it is paying off for them.

I mention this because over the course of the weekend I was approached by two different conventions about vending.  Both are brand new, both are asking for $200 for booth space.  One mentioned on its website that they expect anywhere between 350 to 2,400 attendees at their first con.  Think about that for a moment.  Presuming that they reach their minimum number, and that I make 50 cents per attendee, I will lose money attending that convention.  The other is one  could see slightly better numbers, but it is still the first year, still untested, and still not worth paying that much for a space.  When conventions charge that much for a space, with such low numbers, it is clear they are looking to cover their costs on the backs of their vendors rather than through ticket sales.

We’ll be back to Midwinter next year for sure.

 

Reynold’s Mess

Be forewarned: this recipe is not for the feint of heart.  It is full of stuff that is horrible for you: fat, beef, cheese, fat, salt, food processed until it no longer resembles food.  It will stick to your ribs, your diaphragm, your colon and your conscience.  All of that aside, it is my most favorite meal in the world and I make it a couple times a year and it is so very good.

With that warning out of the way, I present Reynold’s Mess, named after my father who made it for the family when I was a growing roach.

Reynold’s Mess

Ingredients

1 box of macaroni & cheese

1 brick of cream cheese

1 lb ground beef

1 can cream of mushroom soup

garlic salt

Instructions

  1. Prepare the macaroni and cheese according to the directions on the package.
  2. While the water is boiling, brown the ground beef.  Drain.
  3. After you have prepared the macaroni and cheese, add the cream of mushroom soup.
  4. Cut the cream cheese into chunks and add it to the macaroni/mushroom soup mix.
  5. Add the ground beef to the mix.
  6. Keep stirring and heat over medium heat until all the ingredients are combined.  Add milk as needed for the consistency you desire.
  7. Season with garlic salt to taste.  I use 1/2 t.  Serve immediately.

Nutrition Information

Hahaha … just kidding.  There’s no way I want to know just how bad this meal is for me.

Book Review: How to Show and Sell Your Crafts by Torie Jaye

As part of my continuing efforts to kick my marketing and selling skills up several notches, I picked up Torie Jaye’s How to Show & Sell Your Crafts from the library.  I will get books from the library first most of the time, and if I find the information in them to be valuable, I’ll buy a copy for my own shelves.  I won’t be picking Jaye’s book up, though.

The book’s focus is on branding: creating your own brand and making sure it saturates every  level of your business.  A good chunk of the book is dedicated to things like picking your  brand’s colors, creating great banner images, choosing an avatar.  This is a book written by a crafter who sees “strong brand focus” as “pivotal to her online success” (as stated in her biography), so the emphasis on branding is understandable.

There’s another section on how to photograph crafts that I found very helpful.  And there are several profiles of other crafters who have made a business of their designs.  The book itself is very pretty.  The layout and design is pleasing, and the pictures are beautifully photographed and presented.  This is the kind of book you want to flip through for inspiration.

However, I came away from the book  feeling that it is a blog’s worth of information stretched over a books’ worth of pages.  While the crafter profiles are nice, the focus was mainly on their bios.  Words of advice or guidance is would be more inspirational than reading about their passion for vintage items.

Included in the book are several crafts.   Ostensibly they were tied into the sections they were found in (paper covered cans as pencil holders in the section on organizing your work space) but they felt like filler meant to pad the page count.

Those sections that I was more interested in—the business of doing business—were sparse.  The page on business plans doesn’t really tell how to write one, or what one looks like.  It doesn’t even tell readers to research more information.  There’s no mention of dealing with taxes, or what it goes into setting up a business.

The book reads like a wish fulfillment manual: emphasis on packaging your crafts and setting up your booth space, talk of when you might need to hire help, blogging and social media.  While these are important things to consider, they’re really ancillary concerns (and in the case of hiring help, concerns that won’t crop up for 99% of the crafters out there) compared to things like finding venues, bookkeeping, taxes and other boring, but necessary details.

If you are looking at trying to make money from your design skills and passions, I’d recommend skipping this book and looking for something more in depth.  If I find one that fits the bill I will definitely mention it here.

Making it Work: Nickels and Dimes

We’re a month into the grand plan.  December being fairly low key, with only one semi-disaster, I feel we got a decent baseline on income potential outside of conventions.  The following is our net income from our creative efforts in December:

Etsy Sales $103.94
Amazon Royalties $1.40
Survey Gift Cards $25.00
Total $130.34

The Etsy sales are pretty self-explanatory. The majority of that revenue went to paying for the new cutting table and a cutting mat.

The Amazon royalties come from two books Stephan and I wrote and self-published  a couple of years ago.  We never did any sort of promotion for them, and they usually net us a couple of bucks a month.  Our goal up until this point has been to get enough in royalties to pay for a bottle or two of wine.  Maybe 2015 will see that goal reached.

The gift cards come from doing online surveys.  They don’t really count as coming from our creative endeavors, but I include them anyway.  They are helpful in getting supplies (like the 1 lb of dice we bought for Midwinter).  And we are stocking them up for birthday gifts and perhaps the fourth season of Game of Thrones when it comes out in February.

It’s clear that our income is going to come from various sources.  There’s not going to be a single paycheck every two weeks.  As the months go on we’ll be adding more revenue channels: Amazon Affiliate links, an Etsy store for Stephan, e-book design services from me, perhaps even a Patreon account.  We will make every little bit count.  And I will keep chronicling our revenue.

The Zombie in the Basement and the Gremlin in my Head

To say that I have been happy the last few weeks feels like I am confessing a horrible secret.  It took forever to admit it to myself, let along to say it out loud—even to Stephan.  I feel guilty about my happiness.  Jerk Brain pipes up immediately to point out that I don’t deserve to be happy.  There are many reasons, the topmost being that I haven’t fulfilled my duties with regards to Eggplant and the Spellbound & Spindles anthologies.  No matter that there’s nothing I can do at the moment.  I am waiting on the printer.  Jerk Brain counters with the argument that I wouldn’t be waiting on the printer if I had gotten this done in a timely manner.  Ergo: I shouldn’t dare be happy with that unresolved business shambling around in the basement like a zombie I’ve trapped but have yet to dispatch.

More than the anthologies, though, the admission that I am happier than I have been for years brings up the question of why I was so unhappy.  When I reopened Eggplant I viewed it as a return to what I loved.  As time passes, I have started to view that move as a step backward.  With every bag I sew, every pattern I draft, I see that I never let myself enjoy my work as a costumer.  I looked at it as what I was doing to get by until I could do something “meaningful” again.  And now I find that I enjoy the sewing so much more than I did running Eggplant.

I have struggled to admit all of this.  It can be taken to mean that I regret going back to publishing, and that’s not what I am saying.  I’m glad I reopened Eggplant, even if I had to close it down again.  I am so very proud of what I published, and I won’t have to live with the regret of not having tried it again.  Still, it is clear that Eggplant was a way station on my journey, one that I wasn’t meant to revisit.

Until I can finish all of the Eggplant business I will continue to argue with Jerk Brain.  It’s a tenacious little gremlin, one that knows all of my insecurities and weaknesses.  That’s why it’s attacks are so successful.   And that is why I have decided to publicly admit that I’m happy.  One of Jerk Brain’s tactics is the fear of being judged by others for my happiness.  I make this admission to cut the legs out from under one of the gremlin’s most effective barbs.  And perhaps once I have laid that zombie to rest I will be able to banish Jerk Brain to the back closet of my mind.  If not, at least it can’t use my happiness against me any more.

Examine your patterns.

Examine your patterns. Consider first if the pace and the pattern of your life are of your own choosing.  Take the measure of your life, honestly and logically.  Determine which patterns are imposed upon you from external sources and which are self-imposed (or self-inflicted).

Make an honest assessment of what you have to do, what you don’t have to do, and of what you have consciously chosen to do, regardless of whether it is required or not.

Now reach a little further within to take a deeper measure of your personal life patterns. In doing so, realistically determine what it is you are striving for. Reexamine your life patterns in the clear light of personal truth and choice. Ask yourself what it is that you truly want from your life, from yourself.

If you are fairly clear on what you really want, then you can effectively determine whether or not your life patterns are structuring your success.  If you are uncertain about what you ultimately want, then you must ask yourself who or what is actually determining and managing thee patterns of your life for you and why.

These are hard questions, but necessary ones if you want to take more power over the patterns in your life. Know that you do have the ability to choose far more in the matters of your life patterns.  The first step—and the last—is taking your personal measure.

Amber Wolfe, Elemental Power

Pink Shoes

Our son, Benjamin, is a little dynamo of a kid.  At three, his personality is oftentimes bigger than his body.  It’s delightful and frustrating and mesmerizing at once.  He’s a kid of varied interests: robots, planes, princesses, Star Wars, Jake & the Neverland Pirates, baby animals, jewelry, Legos, the colors blue and pink.  He likes to throw himself down, pretending to “die”.  He rough-houses with his father.  His current best imaginary friend is Princess Leia, who more often than not is symbolized by a Lego minfigure he constantly “dresses” with different torsos, feet and hair styles.  She always, however, has one of the two girl heads we have.*

We took Benjamin shoe shopping last month.  As his current pair of sneakers were being held together by the sheer force of his personality, it was time to upgrade.  Thanks to the generosity of others, we hadn’t needed to go shoe shopping for him before.  We hit the local Meijer and headed to the kids’ shoe section.  Upon arrival, Ben immediately pointed out the pink shoes.  He didn’t even look at the others: those were the ones he wanted.

Watching my golden-haired boy, I felt a twist of fear in my gut.  I thought of all the articles I had read over the years about boys being bullied for liking My Little Pony, or for having long hair, or for any number of other ways they might deviate from accepted gender norms.  He’s only three, not even in preschool yet, but I was already preparing myself for the unkindness the world could hurl at a person who is different.  I hated that fear.  We are trying to raise Ben to be free of gender norms, to be himself and to feel free to express himself without fear.  But I couldn’t stop the reluctance inside of me, even as I said, “Okay.”

Stephan agreed.  If his son—who is constantly mistaken for a girl—wants pink shoes, then pink shoes he’ll have.

We were getting ready to go check out, when another pair of shoes caught Ben’s attention.  They are blue and light up.  The first pair, no matter how pink and pretty, couldn’t compare to shoes that light up.  Ben changed his mind.  And I felt relief.  And I felt betrayed by my relief.

Raising Ben (and Charlotte) as we are is a constant learning—and unlearning—process, one we are committed to.  Should Ben want pink shoes the next time, it will be a little easier, I think.  Baby steps.  Or in this case toddler steps.


*That we only have two girl heads (three if you count the Lego McGonagall, which Ben doesn’t) and 3 billion + “boy” heads is pretty damn annoying.

Making it Work: The First Obstacle

Our plan is pretty solid: I sew like a despondent Disney princess.  Then, instead of hitting multiple small conventions throughout the year (as I did before) I only vend at one or two large conventions.  In theory this gives me time to make plenty of stock, and will let us walk out of a convention with a fat stack of cash.  There’s plenty of risk with this plan, though.  It means that our cash flow is severely low for months.  As we are living hand-to-mouth as it is, we don’t have any room for the unexpected.

Which, of course means the unexpected happened last week.  I was working in the workshop when my cutting table collapsed.  It was a slow motion sort of disintegration, like a building that had been dynamited.  I stood next to it torn between laughter and annoyance. Continue reading Making it Work: The First Obstacle